The association between physical education and academic achievement in other curriculum learning areas: a review of literature

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Background: : As a curriculum learning area, physical education (PE) has continually struggled to gain status within an increasingly crowded curriculum. This frequently leads to a reduction in available time within the curriculum for PE. In Australia and internationally, this may be explained by a focus on standardised testing, though questions are also raised about the capacity of PE to contribute to broader learning outcomes within the school context. Whilst the links between physical activity (PA) more broadly and cognitive performance, brain development and executive function (EF) have been recognised, the specific role physical education (PE) has on student’s academic achievement (AA) is less well established. Consequently, researchers have sought to evidence the ‘value-add’ of PE in order to justify its relevance and importance in the curriculum. Purpose: This literature review sought to explore the association between physical education (PE) and academic achievement (AA) in other curriculum learning areas. It was guided by the research question, does physical education have measurable educative benefits/impact on student academic achievement in other curriculum learning areas? Data analysis: : Six databases/database platforms were searched: Informit, Scopus, Web of Science, SPORTDiscus, ERIC and Ovid (including AMED, DARE, Cochrane CCTR and CDSR and PsycINFO) for articles published in English between 2004 and 2020. A total of 5,599 unique articles were returned from the searches and alerts after duplicates were removed. Articles were then screened against inclusion and exclusion criteria with 88 articles identified for full text review. This literature review reports on the final 48 peer-reviewed research articles to meet the inclusion criteria. Findings: : The review of the literature suggests mixed findings regarding the association between PE and AA in other curriculum learning areas; the findings are reported as having ‘effect’, ‘no effect’ or ‘inconclusive effect’. Collectively, the ‘effect’ studies indicate that relationships exist between PE, AA and EF. This conclusion is consistent across school settings, study methodology and intervention design. However, the ‘no effect’ studies indicate that there is no relationship between PE, AA and EF. Whilst, the ‘inconclusive effect’ studies collectively indicate an array of inconclusive relationships between a variety of indices associated with PE, PA, AA and/or EF. The ‘no effect’ and ‘inconclusive effect’ conclusions are irrespective of methodology or intervention design, regardless of the approach used and measurement tools, the findings were the same. Studies that increased the amount of PA students were undertaking by the increasing time dedicated to PE did not report any negative impact of student achievement and grades. Conclusion: : In regards to the research question, the evidence is highly mixed as to the potential impact PE can have on AA in other learning areas. What is certain from the studies reviewed is that participation in PE does not have any negative impact on student AA. The review highlights a number of limitations with existing literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-81
Number of pages31
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • academic achievement
  • executive function
  • learning outcomes
  • literature review
  • Physical education (PE)

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